Above: The proposed Division Road Neighborhood includes 410 residential units, including single family, 6-unit and 34-unit buildings.
A quarter of the units would be affordable, helping the town toward its 10% goal
The Planning Board heard the master plan application last week for a 410-unit residential project being called the Division Road Neighborhood on wooded land opposite Westfield and Moosehorn roads. While these plans have been in the works for a couple of years, this is the first public hearing on the project – an opportunity for the developer to lay out the basic plan and for board members and residents to ask questions.
Town lawyer Andy Teitz made clear at the outset that the developer, Ned Capozzi, had opted for what’s known as a “comprehensive permit,” a state rule that gives builders a fast track through town regulations in exchange for at least 25 percent of the proposed units being deed-restricted affordable for people with a moderate or low income (see footnote for the language in the state law).
It also gives the developer a density bonus – where a lot more units can be fit into an area than, for instance, in those 2-acre zoned Westfield and Moosehorn neighborhoods right across the street.
While a developer can use the comprehensive permit rule anywhere they own land, it helps the developer in this instance that the town had already identified this area (the property is about 80 acres in size) as a good one for higher density mixed-use residential in its Comprehensive Plan (Editor’s note: It’s a little confusing that the word “comprehensive” is used to define both the town’s plan and the state permitting rule – we will try to keep it clear what we are referring to here.)
A comprehensive plan is like a blueprint for a municipality’s future development. It’s updated every 10 years and needs to be approved by the state. EG’s comp plan (as it’s often referred to) shows this site as appropriate for mixed-use residential, with a goal of adding more affordable housing. The comp plan also calls for the town to rezone the area from farm (F2) to mixed-use residential (MUPD). So, in many ways the project fits what the town was seeking, though without the commercial component.
However, it’s unclear if town officials considered that a developer might add quite so many units, with the only ways in and out of the development via the two-lane Division Road.
The plan calls for six phases, starting with 57 units in the first phase (a & b) – 29 single family residences and 18 “manor” units (a manor being a 2-story, 6-unit building). In addition to those two housing types, the development would include four “corridor buildings,” 34-unit complexes. Built out would take several years.
The board heard from 19 residents who spoke in opposition to the project, citing everything from the decline of open space, traffic concerns, overburdened town services and schools, increased taxes, and environmental concerns. Around 30 residents attended the meeting with another 35 to 40 people watching on Zoom. (The Planning Department also received more than a dozen letters from residents.) No residents spoke in favor of the project.
But, as outlined by Teitz, the Planning Board is not allowed to consider many of the concerns expressed at the meeting. It can focus only on health and safety issues, which includes traffic and some environmental issues, but not any impacts on taxes, town services, or schools. Any denial of a project of this type could be appealed to the State Housing Appeal Board (SHAB), which prioritizes the addition of affordable housing units, so municipal denials are usually overturned. East Greenwich went through just such a process with the Coggeshall Farm development on South Pierce Road – the Planning Board denied the 14 units sought by the developer; the developer appealed it to SHAB, which sided with the developer; the town then appealed to Superior Court; before it was decided in court, the two sides negotiated and the developer agreed to 8 units. (Read more about Coggeshall HERE.)
The master plan stage is broad brush, with things like drainage, road widths, traffic impacts, landscaping, etc., worked out in detail during the “preliminary plan” stage, which comes next. The developer did file a traffic study but it was completed during the pandemic, something several residents said had skewed results.
The Planning Board continued the master plan hearing to its next meeting, July 20. More public comment will be allowed at that time. There is, however, a clock ticking on the application – if the board does not vote by the end of August, the master plan will be approved by default.
Find the developer’s application here: Planning Board Package, 6/15/22.
*Per Rhode Island General Law 42-128-8.1(d)(1): “Affordable housing” means residential housing that has a sales price or rental amount that is within the means of a household that is moderate income or less. In the case of dwelling units for sale, housing that is affordable means housing in which principal, interest, taxes, which may be adjusted by state and local programs for property tax relief, and insurance constitute no more than thirty percent (30%) of the gross household income for a household with less than one hundred and twenty percent (120%) of area median income, adjusted for family size. In the case of dwelling units for rent, housing that is affordable means housing for which the rent, heat, and utilities other than telephone constitute no more than thirty percent (30%) of the gross annual household income for a household with eighty percent (80%) or less of area median income, adjusted for family size.